More than 2,300 West Virginians have signed up so far for "Grow This: WV Garden Challenge," an annual program by the West Virginia University Extension Service’s Family Nutrition Program that encourages home gardening.
Launched in 2018, the program usually has a few hundred participants each year but has seen a surge in interest after the COVID-19 global pandemic began shutting down businesses and schools.
According to Kristin McCartney, a family nutrition specialist and assistant professor at West Virginia University, the program seems to have been in place at the right time, given the pandemic.
“The idea behind "Grow This" is, if you’re new to gardening, just try one thing and see how you do," McCartney said. "It’s a comfortable place for people to start.”
“There are times when, as a society, we need to pull together and do something good. This is one of those times. And it just happens to be the right time of year to garden, too."
Participation is free, she said, and every few weeks, those who sign up through a short online survey will receive a packet of seeds in the mail.
In addition, Family Nutrition Program staff in some West Virginia counties are distributing growing kits along with school lunch deliveries. This year’s crops will be microgreens, peas, tomatoes, and butternut squash.
Participants may also receive support from Family Nutrition Program health educators and WVU Extension agents, and participate in a Facebook community of nearly 2,000 fellow gardeners.
The Facebook page is also where Family Nutrition Program staff will keep participants informed about special growing contests and challenges that will take place throughout the growing season.
“The Facebook page is a great place for people to share ideas. Even though we’re spread out, it creates a community,” McCartney said.
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